Caltrans Richardson Grove Project Faces Opposition

Already drawing opposition and protests, Caltrans is planning to widen the stretch of Highway 101 that passes through Richardson Grove National Park. As stated in their Environmental Impact Report (EIR), Caltrans plans to remove trees, including a number of redwood tress, as part of a project meant to accommodate big rig trucks and boost local commerce.

According to Caltrans, the highway stretch through Richardson Grove is one of last sections of Highway 101 where trucks that conform to the Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA) are still prohibited. The STAA are standards that specify minimum dimensions for trucks that states must accommodate on the National Network, which includes Interstate Highways and other highways. Due to the sharp curves and narrow lanes, it is difficult, if not impossible, for larger trucks with trailers to travel safely through Richardson Grove.

Located about 150 miles south of the California-Oregon border, Richardson Grove National Park is one of the southernmost areas in California with redwood trees. Popular activities at the park include camping, hiking, swimming, and fishing. Additionally, the park features the 9th tallest coast redwood and a “walk-through” tree.

In the EIR, Caltrans proposed that up to 54 trees will be removed from about a quarter acre of land to be used for the project’s cuts and fills. The species of trees include tanoak, Douglas fir, and redwood trees, which Caltrans claims will be replanted.

Other environmental concerns of the project include the construction of a retaining wall, the temporary diversion of a stream during the project, and possible increased noise levels and during construction and pollution.

Supporters of the project include local businesses, such as artisan cheese-makers, brewers, and manufacturers of machine parts. Shipping to and from the north coast of California is very expensive due to the lack of a major shipping port and accessible rail lines.

Despite Caltrans’s claims that the project will have minimal environmental impacts, many residents and activists oppose the project. An activist group called Richardson Grove Action Now has sent out letters to contractors that may be interested in the project. In the letter, the activists discouraged contractors from bidding on the project and threatened to disrupt construction during the project. The disruptions would add to construction costs and damages. The letter also warns that the local businesses benefiting from the Caltrans project would face “public notoriety; a PR nightmare”.

The FBI is allegedly investigating the activist group for sending out these letters as a form of eco-terrorism. An FBI spokeswoman did not deny nor confirm these allegations.

The Richardson Grove Action Now group is also responsible for the protests to the project held at a Caltrans office and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors chambers. Local police have reported peaceful protests so far.

The Environmental Protection Information Center, working independently of Richardson Grove Action Now, also opposes the project. Says executive director Gary Graham Hughes, “I think there’s a lot of validity that businesses want to be attentive to what kind of risk to their brand might be present from being involved with the Richardson Grove project. I think countywide, there’s a big question of brand and trademark at stake. The redwoods is the most powerful, globally-recognized brand that Humboldt County has.”

In its current state, some visitors of the park already feel the stretch of Highway 101 contributes noise. A review on mentions that traffic from the highway running through the park is considerably noisy. With the addition of big rigs, noise levels would undoubtedly increase.

Another battle between economy and environment, some see the project as “an old way of thinking.” Instead of accommodating big rigs, activist Barbara Kennedy believes, “It is time to begin the end of our dependence on diesel trucking and begin to divert our resources to other modes of goods movement that will be more economical and less damaging to the environment.”

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The Leading Edge of “Green” Street Design

Innovative sustainability concepts are starting to head to city streets. Environmentally sound construction isn’t just about buildings anymore. Chicago’s new project on Cermak Road will set an example for other cities looking to “green” up their streets.

Cermak Road, an industrial street in Chicago near commercial and residential areas, is currently lined with warehouses and factories. It’s a bleak scene for the eyes now, but soon it will be turned into an inspiring model of a “green,” sustainable street.

Under an $18 million project called the Cermak/Blue Island Sustainable Streetscape, the roadway will be redesigned using innovative, environmentally sound concepts that alleviate the usual environmental imbalances that urban environments often create. It will serve as a valuable model on which to base eco-friendly urban street designs nationwide.

The roads will be reset with permeable surfaces, allowing storm water drainage to occur. Storm water runoff is one of the biggest environmental problems in high precipitation areas of the United States like Chicago. Improving drainage prevents erosion and pollutant runoff into aquatic areas.

Sidewalks and asphalt will have reflective materials to reflect light and heat. This regulates the high heat that often festers in urban areas during the summer.

Streetlights will be refitted with energy efficient systems that emit less light pollution into the sky. Solar panels will power the streetlights.

A bike lane of 5.5 feet will be constructed of permeable paving blocks designed for biker’s tires. The concrete used is blended with TX Active, which absorbs the Nitrous Oxide created by passing cars, thereby reducing local pollution.

Alderman Danny Solis of the 25th Ward said that the green street would be an important connection between an industrial area and the surrounding commercial and residential parts of the community. “We need to have industry, and we need to have vital commercial and residential areas. With projects like this, it’s feasible that these two can be compatible,” he said, as quoted by Huffington Post Chicago.

David Leopold, who led the Cermak/Blue Island project, tried to imagine a street that would be on the leading edge of eco street design, and worthy of winning the LEED platinum certification, if such an award existed for streets.  The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) Standard is normally applied to buildings that exhibit energy and eco- balanced aspects.

Steven Vance, an urban planning expert, said in an email to the Huffington Post that Leopold had imagined, “If we were to make a LEED platinum street, what would it be?”

The roadway project was coordinated alongside a project for green additions to the Benito Juarez community academy where Cermak and Blue Island roads intersect. Some of the new features include water runoff designs that allow for rainwater drainage.

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Europe’s Transportation Shift Away From Gasoline Cars

Italian-high-speed-trainThe European Commission, an executive branch of the EU, recently released a report detailing its plan to cut gasoline usage in half by 2030 and eliminate the use of gasoline in cars by 2050. It is claimed that these measures would reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Europe by up to 60%. But these measures would also shift the primary modes of long-distance travel from cars and airplanes to ships and railways.

In fact, no gasoline-powered cars would be allowed in city centers at all. This would would not only decrease congestion and smog; it would also decrease auto accidents. 69% of car accidents currently occur in urban areas in Europe. These measures may also reduce the number of people killed in car accidents by 20% by 2020 and eliminate deaths entirely by 2050. Cars and other vehicles would also be subject to taxation depending on how energy-efficient they are; the less energy-efficient a vehicle is, the more it would be taxed.  

This plan has been met with some resistance in the UK because it is seen as unrealistic to ban cars from city centers. In fact, the head of the Association for British Drivers believed that Siim Kallas’ plan would plunge Europe into a new dark age. UK Transport Minister Norman Baker took a less divisive stance, stating, “It is right that the EU sets high-level targets for carbon reduction, however it is not right for them to get involved in how this is delivered in individual cities.” He also added that the UK believes in reducing carbon emissions through incentives such as promoting the use of electric cars, walking, and cycling.

Airports would be hit by this gas phaseout in various ways. First of all, airlines would have to increase the amount of low-carbon fuel their planes used, which would gradually increase until it reaches 40% low-carbon fuel by 2050. And airline flights shorter than 186 miles (300 meters) would be phased out by this time. Conveniently enough, all major airports would have to be connected to railways by 2050, so people could easily get to destinations within the 186-mile limit

Like airports, seaports would also have to be connected to the railway system by 2050. While airports would be connected to it for the convenience of travelers, seaports would be connected to it to reduce the amount of trucks and buses needed to ship goods. Maritime fuels would also be affected, with the amount of fuel in use to be reduced by 40% (and up to 50% if possible) by 2050.

Shipping would be greatly affected by this measure. This is because the EU wants to reduce the impact of shipping to only 40% of its carbon emissions by 2050. By 2030, 30% of road freight traveling less than 186 miles would shift to railways or water routes, and this would also increase to 50% by 2050. Freight trucks traveling in cities would also have to be carbon-free.

The European Commission’s document clearly emphasizes that there would be a better connections between rail lines, roads, and waterways. In fact, the “Single European Transport Area” outlined in it would include a single air traffic control system and a more extensive high-speed rail system, among other things. 

However, this plan will cost at least 1.5 trillion euros to implement. Despite the enormity of this task, Siim Kallas, the European Commissioner for Transport, is optimistic about its success. “The widely-held belief that you need to cut mobility to fight climate change is simply not true. We can break the transport system’s dependence on oil without sacrificing its efficiency and compromising mobility.”  

Photo Credit: Jollyroger